One of the challenges faced by the church today may be the need to adopt a “both/and” mentality instead of an “either/or”. Our boxes may be too small for the complex realities of today. Like “new” wine in “old” wineskins, we may be about to ruin a good party by having our “new wine” splattered on the floor and soaking into the carpet because our “old” traditions and wineskins of the past cannot contain the “spirit(s)” of today!
The old mainline denominations have already shown us what not to do by their unintentional demise in recent history. Their church rolls and financial income dwindled while they hooked their wagons to the “social” agendas. Tony Campolo in Speaking My Mind noted this near fatal mistake writing:
“To make matters worse, church members often diametrically opposed the positions on social issues articulated from the pulpits of mainline Protestantism. Sociologists have conducted studies validating the fact that church members generally have more conservative stances on political and social matters than do their denominational leaders, or even their clergy” (Campolo, Speaking My Mind, pg.5)
“Even those who agree with the liberal positions many of the leaders of the mainline churches have taken will have to admit that such liberal positions on those matters I have cited are not conducive to fostering growth in church membership or increasing financial support. Thus, it is not surprising that for the last few decades, church membership in mainline denominations has declined, and giving has dropped below what is needed to sustain denominational programs” (Campolo, Speaking My Mind, pg.6)
These statements challenged my thinking on the future of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Over the past ten years our moderate leadership has challenged our churches and membership to confront a number of social and theological issues. Many of these issues may have needed to be addressed but many could have waited for a more prudent time. From my perspective often the issues arose in reaction against actions and blunders of the Southern Baptist Convention. Too often in my opinion our convention leadership was too reactionary, and may have wandered from our core values in an effort to distance us from the extremes of Fundamentalism.
A key factor in leadership involves gaining and keeping a following. If a leader gets too far ahead of his or her people often the influence of the leader is diminished. Take the issue of women in ministry as an example. I believe God wants women to play a vital and significant role in the advance of the Kingdom. However, the issue of woman pastors is a hot button for many people who sit in the pews of our “conservative” churches. If a leader chooses to make woman pastors/woman ordination a major agenda item it would appear to me that he or she would be losing touch with the rank and file churches of our convention. At one point we had 5000 BGCT churches and only 1 church had a woman senior pastor. Beside it appears to me that calling a pastor and ordination are local church issues, and our convention leadership needs to trust our local churches to follow the leadership of the Lord in these matters.
In the latest Baptist Standard, Dr. Wade pointed out the balance in our recent approach to ministry by calling attention to the Evangelism conference next week in Dallas, and the New Baptist Covenant meeting in Atlanta later this month. I believe he is on to something. However, I trust he is aware that a large number of our conservative churches and members may be troubled by the political overtones of the New Baptist Covenant gathering with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter has headliners. I know Dr. Wade feels deeply the BGCT must be a significant player in this gathering, but in making this decision I hope he counted the cost in terms of its impact on the perception of our convention leadership among our churches. By making the NBC such a high profile event, and by spending significant (private) resources to promoted this historic Baptist gathering he runs the risk of splinting our fellowship further.
To be honest, the actions of the BGCT have not reach the depth of the dissonance the mainline denominations have taken in recent decades, but it is clear from the “church drain” that we have drawn some lines in the sand that many were not willing to cross.
My conviction is that we need to keep the “main thing the main thing”. We need to focus our energies on missions, evangelism, church planting, higher Christian education, ministerial equipping and meeting human need. Granted there is a place for advancing certain social agendas, but not on the front burner.